Top Engineers – Robert Ludwig

Bryan Ferry / Boys And Girls – Key Tracks for Critical Listening

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More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

The song Valentine, the second track on side two, is a key test for that side. Note how processed Ferry’s vocals are; on the best copies they will sound somewhat bright. The test is the background singers; they should sound tonally correct and silky sweet.

If Ferry sounds correct, they will sound dull, and so will the rest of the side. That processed sound on his vocal is on the tape. Trying to “fix” it will ruin everything. (You can be pretty sure that whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing has been made for this album that they tried to fix the hell out of it. Doubtless the result is not a pretty one. It rarely is.)

On the top copies the lead on the very next track, Stone Woman, is tonally right on the money. These two tracks, two of the best on the album, together make it easy to know if your copy is correct in the midrange.

Track two: background vocals.

Track three: lead vocal.

What could be easier?

Key Listening Test for Both Sides

The quality of the percussion is critical to much of the music here. There’s tons of it on Boys and Girls, even more than on its predecessor Avalon, and unless you have plenty of top end, presence and transparency, all that percussion can’t work its magic to drive this rhythmic music.

How About the British Pressings?

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Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

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More Top 100 Titles

  • Wall to wall, floor to ceiling Led Zeppelin power – this copy delivers like you will not believe, or your money back
  • A Better Records Top 100 album (along with 4 other Zep titles), 5 Stars in AMG and a True Zeppelin Must Own Classic
  • The Tubey Magical acoustic guitars heard here should be a wake up call to every audiophile that trying to remaster this album is just not in the cards
  • 5 stars: “Jimmy Page’s riffs rely on ringing, folky hooks as much as they do on thundering blues-rock, giving the album a lighter, more open atmosphere…”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this title from 1973 is clearly one of their best, and inarguably one of their best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This copy has the kind of BIG, BOLD ROCK SOUND that takes this music to places you’ve only dreamed it could go. The HUGE drums on this copy are going to blow your mind — and probably your neighbors’ minds as well.

And what would a Zep record be without bass? Not much, yet this is precisely the area where so many copies fail. Not so here. The bottom end is big and meaty with superb definition, allowing the record to ROCK, just the way you know Zep wanted it to.

The vocals too are tonally correct. None of the phony upper-midrange boost that the Classic Records reissue suffers from is evident on this copy. The louder Robert Plant screams the better he sounds and the more I like it. The Classic makes me wince. (more…)

The Band / Rock Of Ages – A Definitive Sonic Assessment?

More of the Music of The Band

More Hot Stamper Pressings of Roots Rock Albums

In 2006 we put up a copy with with what we implied were Hot Stampers (before we were using the term regularly) on at least one side:

“Side One sounds tonally right on the money! This is as good as it gets… Robert Ludwig mastered all of the originals of these albums, but some of them have bad vinyl and don’t sound correct.

“I only played side one of the album, so I can’t speak for the other sides, but what I heard was sound about as good as I think this album can have.”

There are some truths along with some half-truths in the above comments, and let’s just say we would be quite a bit more careful in our language were we writing about that copy today.

One side is no indication whatsoever as to the quality of the other three, and without the kind of cleaning technologies we have available to us today, I wouldn’t want to make a “definitive” sonic assessment for any of them.

When you play uncleaned or poorly cleaned records, you’re hearing a lot of garbage that has nothing to do with the sound of the vinyl itself.

Note that we are joking above: there is no such thing as a definitive sonic assessment of a record, from us or anybody else.

Bad Audiophile Thinking? We’ve done our share and then some.

We are firm believers in the idea that plenty of Audio Progress awaits you, but you must approach the problem rationally and put the necessary time and effort into it.

It is axiomatic with us that the more skeptical you become, the more successful you will be in pursuing this hobby of ours.

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Brewer & Shipley – Do All the Robert Ludwig Mastered Copies Have Hot Stampers?

More of the Music of Brewer and Shipley

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Brewer and Shipley

Even though all the original Pink Label pressings are mastered by Robert Ludwig, they have a marked tendency to be dull, thick and opaque. The sound is just too smooth.

The best copies, however, have the top end and the transparency to let you hear all the guitar harmonics, surrounded by the large acoustic of the studio.

This time around we discovered something new: one specific stamper that seemed to be the only one with the potential for an extended top end. This special stamper did not always fare well; some copies with it were mediocre. We have always found this to be the way with the “right” stampers; they often let us down and sometimes they really let us down hard.

But this stamper, when it was right, had an extension on the top that no other copy could match. (The Robert Ludwig mastered Band second albums are the same way. Most have no top but boy, when they do, the magic you hear is phenomenal.) (more…)

Jimi Hendrix – The Cry of Love

  • Big, bold Hendrix sound — powerful energy and presence plus huge size and space
  • The first and probably best of the posthumous Hendrix albums, with Angel, Ezy Rider, Freedom, Drifting and more
  • VH1 called it “the greatest posthumous classic rock record of all time” and they just might be right!

With Eddie Kramer and Robert Ludwig on the payroll, doesn’t this record have to be spectacular? Good, yes, but spectacular? Not really. Some copies just don’t rock, and those copies lose a huge number of points for that shortcoming, especially on a Monster Rock record such as this.

Some are leaned out, some have no real top end — as Murphy’s Law makes clear, if something can go wrong it will go wrong.

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Ravel / Haydn / Acoustic Recording Series, Volume 2 – Reviewed in 2008

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

A good sounding audiophile record? Yes, it is possible, we would never deny it.

In fact, we actually sell some of the best ones ourselves.

The sound on the record is excellent. It was engineered by Mark Levinson, on special equipment designed to create virtually noiseless ultra-low-distortion master tapes, without noise-reduction systems. It’s mastered by Robert Ludwig

The first side contains Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales played on the piano by Lois Shapiro.  Side two contains her performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 49.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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The Band – Rock Of Ages

More of The Band

More Roots Rock LPs

  • A superb vintage Capitol pressing of Rock of Ages with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all FOUR sides
  • The best copies are surprisingly TRANSPARENT – just listen to all the “room” around the vocals on these four sides
  • With tracks from their first four albums, as well as a few handpicked favorites (“Don’t Do It”), not to mention killer horn charts on 11 songs, this is a superb overview of the group’s uniquely rootsy rock
  • A classic double live album with a consistently well-arranged and energetically performed set of songs – if you could only have one album by The Band, wouldn’t it have to be this one?
  • 4 stars: “It could be argued that it captured the spirit of the Band at the time in a way none of their other albums do.”

The performances are uniformly excellent, and the live five-piece horn section adds a lot to the fun and energy of the music. (The same can be said for Little Feat’s live album, Waiting for Columbus. We’ve been offering Hot Stampers on that album for years; it’s the best way to hear the band at their best, outside the studio.)

There’s real Tubey Magic on this album, along with breathy vocals, in-your-listening-room presence, and plenty of rock and roll energy.

All four sides here are just plain bigger, richer, clearer and smoother than the other copies we played. The energy level is off the charts. This is The Band playing live at the peak of their powers. Hearing this outstanding pressing should be unlike anything you have experienced before, unless you saw them back in the day, some fifty years ago, and how many of us can honestly say we did? (“Honestly” being the operative word there.)

It should go without saying that this is music that belongs in any popular music collection. My favorite song here is “I Don’t Want To Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes.” It’s The Band at their best — LIVE.

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Led Zeppelin / Led Zeppelin II

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A Top Ten Title

  • An INCREDIBLE copy of Zep II with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish, just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • We are doing the shootout for this album soon, so if you are looking for a Shootout Winning copy, please let us know now so that we can hold one for you
  • This pressing may be the QUIETEST Robert Ludwig pressing we have ever played, with no marks and no Inner Groove Damage (which is almost always present on “Thank You”)
  • The seller charged us a pretty penny for this copy, and he was right to do so — we just never find them with audiophile surfaces such as these
  • Years ago we gave up on everything but these killer RL (and SS) pressings, because nothing else can hold a candle to them
  • With copies selling for $1000+ on ebay, sometimes $3000+, we’re forced to pay big bucks for Zep II these days, but if any album is worth it, it’s this one

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Jimi Hendrix – Band of Gypsys

More Jimi Hendrix

More Rock Classics

  • Truly exceptional sound – these Ludwig-mastered Capitol pressings are the only way to fly
  • Tons of bass, smooth vocals, and an overall freedom from distortion characterize the overall sound of both sides, and that’s unusual, because most copies of this record are just plain dreadful
  • Trust me on this one – you’re going to have a difficult and (and expensive!) adventure trying to find a great sounding copy of this one on your own
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Although he could be an erratic live performer, for these shows, Hendrix was on — perhaps his finest performances… not only an important part of the Hendrix legacy, but one of the greatest live albums ever.”
  • If you’re a fan of Jimi’s, this 1970 release belongs in your collection.

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Steely Dan ‎on MCA Audiophile Vinyl – Sounds Like a Good CD to Me

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

Clean and clear and tonally correct, just like a good CD should sound. If this is what you are after, why not just buy the CD? It’s a lot cheaper.

Some songs sound better than others, can’t for the life of me remember which ones. I auditioned copies of this record more than twenty years ago. Once I got rid of them I never bought another. Why would I?

No doubt there are still audiophiles extolling the virtues of this record in various threads. One thing you can be sure of: these are people who are not very serious about making progress in audio.

Some of the pressings these audiophiles like can be found in our Stone Age Audio Record section.

If you have top quality, highly-tweaked modern equipment, a good room, and the myriad other things that make exceptionally good vinyl playback possible these days — in a way that was not possible even ten or fifteen years ago — you would have no reason to keep a record of such mediocrity in your collection.

Or say anything nice about it on a site ostensibly devoted to audiophile vinyl.

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